Chinese paper cutting 剪纸

Paper cutting (jiǎn zhǐ 剪纸) can be seen in many parts of China during the Spring Festival. People paste patterns on the window, door lintel (mén méi 门楣) or desks for the festival atmosphere.

It’s difficult to tell when it originated. One saying is that it originated from the religious ceremony or offering sacrifices. The ancient people cut papers into animals or people. They either buried them with the dead or burned them on the funerals, wishing that things that paper stand for could be with the dead. A thousand years ago, paper cut was used for decoration. According to historic books, women in the Tang Dynasty (táng cháo 唐朝) used paper cut as headdress. In the Song Dynasty, it was the decoration of the gifts. People pasted on windows or doors or used it as decorations on walls, mirrors or lanterns. Some people made a living by it.

Paper cutting is all made by hand. It is easy to learn the rudiments (rù mén 入门). Non-craftsmen need only a knife and paper. For craftsman, they need knives and gravers of various types to make complicated patterns. It can be one piece of paper or many pieces. Simple patterns can be cut with a knife. For complicated patterns, people first pasted the pattern on the paper and then used various kinds of knives to make it. No mistake can be made during the process otherwise the work would fail.

Paper cutting covers nearly all topics, from flowers, birds, animals, legendary people, figures in classic novels, to types of facial make-up in Peking opera. Paper cutting has various styles in different parts of China.

In the past, women living in the countryside gathered in their free time to make paper cutting, which is a way to judge their skillfulness. As society develops, fewer and fewer people learn this skill while there are some who still regard it as a profession. At present, there are factories and associations for paper cutting in China. Exhibitions and exchanges are held regularly and books of this kind are published. Paper cutting has changed from decoration to a kind of art. At the same time, paper cutting also appears in cartoons, on stage, in magazines or in TV series.




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